Wisconsin works to protect consumers
December 01, 2010 | 08:02 AM
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Many of us have received an e-mail requesting a small amount of money be sent overseas in exchange for millions of dollars in return or a phone call awarding a supposed free vacation so long as your credit card information is provided. Even though most of us would not fall for such scams, many trusting individuals do. Your personal financial information should always be guarded, and the best way to do so is by knowing the facts.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) 13,648 fraud complaints were reported in Wisconsin in 2009. That number includes the approximately 323 reports of identity theft. Telemarketing (No Call List violations), landlord/tenant, telecommunications, satellite dish and home improvement were the most frequently reported fraud complaints. Although Wisconsin consumers ages 20 to 39 are most likely to be victims of identity theft, people of any age can be a target. In fact, child identity theft increased four percent in 2009.
The state of Wisconsin is often wise to the ways in which some unscrupulous businesses may abuse the public to turn a quick profit. But for Wisconsinites who may fall prey to unprofessional — and often illegal — business tactics, knowing your rights as a consumer can give you the confidence you need to take action.
DATCP is the service agency in Wisconsin in charge of consumer protection and complaints. Complaints range from auto repair to charitable solicitors, and can cost consumers millions. If you believe you have been the victim of a scam, you should contact the Department of Consumer Protection; toll free, at (800) 422-7128 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In addition to filing a complaint, DATCP may also assist you to determine what, if any, complaints have been filed against a particular company. This is one way to be pro-active in protecting yourself from a potentially disreputable organization. Here are a few additional steps you can take to avoid being victimized:
Check identification and credentials. Don't let anyone in your home without making sure that the person is really who they say they are. If you need to look up a phone number or call a reference, take the time to do it.
Support local businesses. These businesses have established themselves in the community and often have built a reputation on good customer service. They are likely to stand behind their work if you have problems.
Get it in writing. If you agree that work needs to be done, have the contractor put their estimate in writing and tell them you'll get back to them. Then get estimates from local businesses and have them put estimates in writing as well.
Avoid offers that are good "today only."
Never pay in cash or with checks made out to cash.
Another way to ensure your personal financial information is not being misused is to review your credit report annually. Since 2005, consumers have been eligible for one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus per year. The three credit bureaus are:
n Equifax — www.equifax.com — (800) 685-1111
n Experian — www.experian.com — (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
n TransUnion — www.transunion.com — (800) 916-8800
Effective Jan. 1, 2007, Wisconsin residents have a right to place a "security freeze" on their credit report, which will prohibit a credit reporting agency from releasing information in a report without authorization. A security freeze must be requested in writing by certified mail to each of the three consumer reporting agencies. It is designed to prevent an extension of credit, such as a loan or a new credit card, from being approved fraudulently. More information regarding freezing your credit score can be found on the Wisconsin Office of Privacy Protection website at www.privacy.wi.gov/.
I urge you to use caution to protect yourself and stay vigilant to the "too good to be true" offers. If you would like more information on filing a consumer complaint, recognizing other deceptive business practices, or protecting your personal interests, visit the Consumer Protection website at www.datcp.state.wi.us. Of course, you may contact my office anytime at (800) 578-1457 with such questions or concerns.
Kedzie can be reached in Madison at P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI, 53707-7882 or by calling toll-free (800) 578-1457. He may be reached in the district at (262) 742-2025 or on-line at www.senatorkedzie.com.